A cough is a reflex action that keeps the airways and throat clean. An irritant triggers the nerves to send a ‘cough impulse’ to the brain, where the brain in turn signals the muscles of the abdomen and chest wall to give a push of air from out the lungs to try to drive out the irritant.

When vigorous or persistent, a cough can be a symptom of several disorders or diseases, whether it is in the form of a dry cough or a productive cough (oily) that is associated with the expectoration with mucus.

When it comes to an acute problem, a cough is often stimulated by a cold, influenza or a sinus infection; however, pneumonia and acute bronchitis can also trigger this symptom. If it last for more than three weeks, it is called a chronic cough and may be a sign of more serious problems such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Prolonged coughing can cause symptoms such as sleepiness, headaches, inability to urinate and even broken ribs.

Common causes of a cough include taking certain medications (particularly ACE inhibitors), exposure to smoke (even passive), allergies, gastroesophageal reflux, bronchiectasis and interstitial lung disease.


What diseases may be associated with a cough?

Diseases that may be associated with a cough include the following:  

  • Respiratory allergies
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pulmonary infarction
  • Sinusitis
  • Tracheitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Aids
  • Dengue
  • Tuberculosis
  • Chickenpox
  • Typhus
  • Ebola
  • Pneumonia
  • Cold
  • Meningitis
  • Aortic aneurysm
  • Tonsillitis
  • COPD
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Embolism
  • Emphysema
  • Heart failure
  • Whooping cough
  • Pleurisy
  • Influence
  • Aortic aneurysm
  • Anger
  • Esophageal diverticula
  • Malaria
  • Laryngitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Rhinitis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Molluscum
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Scleroderma


Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive and it is always a good idea to consult with a doctor regarding any questions, concerns, or if symptoms persist. 


What are possible treatment options for a cough?

The best remedy for a cough depends on its cause. Specific diseases such as asthma and chronic lung diseases, may require taking certain medications.

In general, cough drops or other counter products can be used to treat a cough. It is also a good idea to keep plenty of fluids, stay within a humid environment, avoid smoking and avoid secondhand smoking as much as possible.

In certain cases, the use of mucolytics, decongestants or antihistamines may also be helpful.


When is it advised to consult with a doctor regarding a cough?

Contacting a doctor is advisable for the following:

  • Heart disease combined with a persistent cough
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Coming into contact with a TB patient
  • If the problem lasts for more than 10 days
  • Bloody sputum
  • Yellow-greenish sputum
  • High pitched noise during inspiration
  • Vigorous and sudden cough  


It is highly advised to go to the emergency room if the cough is associated in any way with symptoms such shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, or hives.